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Photos above:   Sign amid charred terrain reads, "As these habitats recover from fire, a colorful variety of bird liife will return."

By Miriam Raftery

March 28, 2014 (San Diego’s East County) – One month after a controlled burn at Cuyamaca sparked controversy, as ECM reported , the State Park Service has failed to answer any of our questions.  Two elected officials have issued statements supportive of burn policies despite mature pines and cedars being torched in a park  an estimated 99% of its mature pines to the 2003 Cedar Fire, which charred 95% of the entire park.

But new photos taken after the burn reveal that the fire also burned d15-foot-tall saplings planted after the Cedar Fire, foot bridges, and a “habitat restoration” area for wildlife replanted as part of reforestation efforts after the Cedar Fire.

Cal Fire has insisted that the burn did not jump out of control, though local cabin owner Craig Maxwell says a state park ranger told him it did.  But if firefighters did not lose control of the burn, this raises an even more troubling question:  Why would State Park officials charged with protecting our public parks order the destruction of some of the last remaining mature pines and cedars, as well as plantings established to replaced what burned in 2003?

Moreover, this region has also been decimated by oak-boring beetles that have killed thousands of trees locally, making protection of what remains even more critical.

Photos below: Two bridges were damaged in the "controlled" burn.






Photos below:  Hot spots still smouldered, unattended, four days after the fire.

The blaze charred mature pines as well as 15-foot-tall saplings replanted by conservation groups after the Cedar Fire. 







After documenting damage to mature pine trees and controversy over the controlled burn, we asked Supervisor Dianne Jacob and Assembylman Brian Jones for comments. Both voiced support for controlled burns, posed no questions for State Parks or Cal Fire, and failed to address concerns of the many constituents who emailed ECM with concerns over this burn.

“I’m a big believer in controlled burns because they reduce the odds of a massive firestorm. Our region learned the hard way in 2003 and 2007 that unchecked, overgrown vegetation can fuel deadly disasters,” Jacob responded. “I don’t want to see those again on my watch  -- and I know state and local fire authorities don’t either. Controlled burns and other forms of vegetation management protect our communities and I rely on our fire officials to identify appropriate locations and carry them out safely.”

Assemblyman Jones responded, ““CAL FIRE is comprised of well-trained fire professionals who conduct “prescribed burns” as a way to protect the ecology of the forests and to ensure unplanned fires do not start during the hotter months of the year.   I have been told by CAL FIRE that acreage was predetermined prior to the prescribed burns, and that they monitored the weather minute by minute and conducted spot weather forecasts throughout the Rancho Cuyamaca burn this week. While I understand the need to conserve our precious State Parks, unfortunately these types of controlled burns are necessary to help firefighters with unplanned fires during a fire season that has the potential to be devastating because of this year’s drought conditions.”

Photo below: Scorched earth, burned trunk of a mature tree, and a ghost forest after burn ordered by State Parks and carried out by Cal Fire.

Maxwell has submitted a public records request to State Parks and Cal Fire requesting detailed maps and the rationale for this burn, among other documentation.  To date his only response was a request for additional time, received only after a local Councilmember intervened to request the information.  The California Public Records Act requires a response within 10 days and allows a reasonable extension to gather data.

Repeated calls and e-mails sent by ECM to State Parks yielded one e-mail in response inviting us to call, however several calls made were not returned.

ECM also sent these photos to a fire chief in another county. The fire official, who asked not to be named, suggested the controlled burn was out of control at some point. "It is apparent something went wrong.  Property should not have been damaged," he advised.

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